In 1997, Turok: Dinosaur Hunter was released for the Nintendo 64 and PC. While it wasn’t necessarily the most original game on the market, it did introduce a vast, free-roaming world to the genre, which was primarily responsible for it being a hit with gamers and critics, spawning several sequels.
Night Dive Studios has just released a remaster of the game for Windows, but it appears as though gunning down prehistoric carnivores has lost some of its bite over the last eighteen years. Playing Turok made me realize just how much first-person shooters have changed in a couple of decades. There is no complex cover system, no highly-developed AI, no regenerating health—just the simple run-and-gun gameplay made popular by the original Doom games. Although it is clear to see why it is cherished as a classic of the genre, it does certainly show its age when played today.
Turok doesn’t really have much of a story to speak of, more of a simple premise that acts as the foundation for a lot of running around and killing. A stoic Native American warrior must defend his world against a whole army of formidable foes—cyborgs, dinosaurs, cyborg-dinosaurs, giant insects, man-eating plants, aliens—and stop a villain known as the Campaigner from assembling an ultra-powerful weapon, the Chronoscepter, which he will use to take over the Universe.
Don’t expect any of this ever really to be explained, however, as the game doesn’t seem to be too concerned with being a prime example of storytelling. Instead, you are just dropped in at the start with the simple direction of finding all the keys to unlock the portal leading to the next world, which has its own keys to find allowing you progress to the next, and so on until you reach the final fight.
As much as it is a shooter, Turok is also deeply focused on exploration. Each of the game’s eight jungle-themed worlds is like a labyrinth filled with caves, underwater passages, and warp pads. The size and design of some of the maps are at times very impressive, especially for a game that is almost two decades old. There is no real linear path, requiring you to uncover all the multiple pathways leading off into different directions and the many ledges and ladders that send you both high and low in your quest for the sacred keys.
It isn’t just keys you will be searching for, either. There’s a whole range of weapons to accumulate during the game that range from the primitive (bow and arrow) to the futuristic (alien ray guns). There are also very handy defensive power-ups such as armor, backpacks for holding extra ammo, and spiritual items that make you invincible for a limited time and cause everything else to move in slow motion. These slo-mo inducing items are rare, but when you do find one, it’s a hell of a lot of fun (it turns out killing demons in bullet-time never gets old). Then there are also the pieces of the game’s MacGuffin, the Chronoscepter, to find in each level so that you can use its cataclysmic power in the last battle of the game. All of this adds up to one long list of items to scavenge, and will likely have you backtracking through the same level at least a couple of times, something I wasn’t so keen on.
As for how the remaster differs from the original, the changes are minuscule. The core experience remains virtually identical with small tweaks to the level design and graphics. Visually, a noticeable difference is with the draw-distance, which has been greatly expanded. In the original N64 and PC versions, you could hardly see a few feet in front of your face; everywhere was shrouded in a thick layer of fog, mainly to mask the graphical limitations at the time.
Even though the fog is still present, a lot more is visible on the screen at once, allowing you to gauge your surroundings and see what enemies are approaching a lot better. There have also been enhancements made to the lighting and reflections in the water—nothing drastic, and they may go largely unnoticed, but they subtly help make the game more visually appealing, nonetheless. Other than that and the improved resolution, this remaster of Turok: Dinosaur Hunter remains completely authentic to its origins, even including all of the original cheat codes.
One thing that Night Dive decided not to add in the remaster was an autosave feature, something that infuriated me at certain points, but I ultimately admired and understood the decision. Like the keys, manual save points have to be discovered by roaming every cave and treetop hut, allowing you to finally breathe a sigh of relief when you stumble across one. If you die and run out of lives before you reach the next save point, it’s all the way back to the last one, even if that means starting the level from scratch.
To be fair, there are also checkpoints, but these too are few and far between. While this method of saving can seem a bit outdated, it helps create part of the game’s old-school charm and dangerous atmosphere, forever keeping you on your toes as there is real risk involved with every precarious jump from a ledge and every surprise enemy encounter. I forgot just how powerful a sting the words “GAME OVER” can have when they fade up on the screen, instead of just feeling completely redundant as they can in a lot of modern games.
The lack of any major graphical improvements is what seems to be the game’s biggest fallback for me. With a game that is all about exploration, it is important for its world to be a place that you can’t wait to explore. The environments need to be varied and interesting enough so that you seek out every possible place not because you have to but because you want to. I feel that Turok slightly fails in this regard.
Back in 1997 when the idea of a free-roaming, three-dimensional game was still a jaw-dropping idea, the game’s eight sprawling stages were highly impressive. Now, it seems a bit mundane, and the game’s appeal has undeniably diminished. Some of the worlds, especially earlier on, look too ugly and dull, and wading through them feels like too much of a task. The layout of a lot of the worlds can get quite repetitive, featuring the same sorts of areas with the same sorts of enemies. It isn’t until the latter half of the game where the locations get a bit more character and the level design becomes less interchangeable.
I found another weakness to be the game’s sporadic boss fights, which left me a little disappointed. There isn’t a whole lot to them, mainly requiring just a whole load of strafing and running in a circle, avoiding the enemy’s attacks and shooting them whenever you get the chance until they finally fall. There never seems to be any strategy involved, just a frenzy of bullets and explosions as you unload whatever ammunition you have and hope they die before you.
None of this is to say that I didn’t enjoy the game because, eventually, I did. Even considering the relatively basic looks, it still manages to pack a punch in the adrenaline department based on its gameplay alone. There were times where my heart skipped a beat as I leaped over a ravine, not sure if I was going to make it to the other side, and there is still a primal kick to be had from mowing down a bunch of giant bugs with a minigun. Using the keyboard and mouse, I found the controls to be extremely precise, especially in the platforming segments. I never felt that I had plummeted down into the misty abyss through any other fault but my own.
Turok: Dinosaur Hunter‘s gameplay may not have aged brilliantly, but at its heart, it remains fun. Those who have fond memories of playing it back when it originally came out will know exactly what to expect as the game hasn’t been altered that much. For fans of the modern first-person shooter, its gameplay mechanics and maps may seem too outdated to justify a purchase, but if you have never experienced any of the Turok games and love the simplicity of Goldeneye 007 and Doom opposed to the latest Call Of Duty, then this could be an old gem worth visiting.
This review is based on the PC version of the game, which we were provided with.
While Turok: Dinosaur Hunter undoubtedly shows its age in both its unappealing graphics and some of its gameplay mechanics, there is still a lot of enjoyment to be had with the hybrid FPS/exploration gameplay.